Archive for February 1st, 2011

Real estate agents

| 01/02/2011 | 39 Comments

My wife and I arrived in Cayman in 2005. We found that finding somewhere to rent was difficult and everything suitable was very expensive. Within a week, however, we found a two-bed condo in Prospect at a monthly rent of $2,400. After three months the owner told us that she was selling and offered us first refusal. We agreed to pay the assessed value of $259,000.

Our monthly repayments amounted to about the same as our rent had been and we hoped that with rising prices we would certainly not lose money and might even make some when we eventually sold.

In February last year we decided to leave the island permanently. I approached several real estate brokers. They were all very keen to act for us but every one of them quoted 7% as their commission. Not one of them would negotiate on this rate.

This is price fixing at its most blatant.

In 2003 we had moved house within London. The average rate charged by estate agents at that time was 2.5% but after shopping around, we found a reputable company who charged us 1.5% for selling our house, the only proviso being that they were the sole agents.

Cayman has a population of around 55,000. Lowestoft, the town that I grew up in, has a population of 73,000. It is a town on the east coast of England and in some ways it is rather like an island. The nearest towns to it are 10 miles north, 8 miles west and 25 miles south. It is surrounded by sparsely populated farmland.

Lowestoft has 8 estate agents with just one office each. Cayman appears to have more than 40 realtors and around 90 offices.

In April last year our condo was assessed independently at $304,000. We were worried that the market seemed to be sinking and as wanted to leave by July, we decided to ask for $296,000. I put up a sign on the main road advertising that a condo was for sale and giving my cell phone number. I advertised on CNS. I can’t remember the rate now but I didn’t pay more than $200 in total. We also took out one ad with a photo in the Compass at a cost of $380.

If we sold for $296,000 through a realtor, that realtor would have got nearly $21,000 in commission and for doing what? Putting a couple of ads in the paper and making a few phone calls, that’s all. They’ll say that they do a lot more than that but none of them could ever tell me what, exactly. “It will go on our web site,” was the best they could come up with.

I started getting phone calls but they were nearly all from real estate brokers. “Will you sell it for 4%?” I asked them. “No.” “6%?”“No.”

Two of them were rude and they all told me that we wouldn’t manage it on our own. One of them turned up one day, unannounced, with a couple whom they showed around the grounds and then asked me if they could see inside. I explained to the couple that I would sell to them but only if they paid the realtor’s commission. They weren’t keen.

After two months, as a result of the ad in CNS, we accepted an offer of $275,000. Ironically, the purchaser is the senior partner in one of the largest realtors on island. I think we sold just in time. Why anyone would sell through a broker is beyond me. In the UK such a ‘ring’ would be illegal.

Cayman is a very small place. Anyone wanting to move house will be looking at the private advertisements in the papers as a matter of course and an ad with CNS, accompanied by photographs, will gain the attention of many people who may not even have been thinking about moving until that time. We got calls and visits from people who had seen the six photographs online, thought that it looked nice and then, for the first time, thought about moving.

An island the size of Cayman can’t support so many realtors. If there were fair competition, the only businesses to suffer would be the incompetent and the inefficient. The customer would always benefit.

These restrictive practices are rife. We bought most of the goods for our refurbished kitchen at a large store but they didn’t sell wall tiles. We were told that if they did they would undercut a nearby business and so put them out of business.

In how many other places are prices kept artificially high? I think you could be looking at Cable TV, car hire, electrical goods, bars and restaurants for a start.

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Gun seized at 7MB club

| 01/02/2011 | 19 Comments

(CNS): Police have confirmed that two men have been arrested and a firearm recovered in connection with an incident at a luxury Seven Mile Beach condo complex today. A spokes person for the RCIPS said that at around 10.50 am this morning (Tuesday 1 February) officers responded to a report of a disturbance at the Caribbean Club on the West Bay Road. A spokesperson said, “We can confirm that two men aged 24 and 25 years have been arrested in connection with the incident and that a firearm was recovered at the location.” No other details have been given but witnesses say the club was taped off and a number of armed officers were seen in the area, which is in the heart of the tourist district.

Police said that enquiries in connection with the incident are ongoing.

 

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Residents fight quarry return

| 01/02/2011 | 27 Comments

(CNS): Residents of Mahogany Estates in Lower Valley are taking up the fight to save their neighbourhood from being turned into what they describe as a quarry once again. For many years residents in the area have been battling the excavation in the heart of their community. The misery was finally ended for them in late 2008 when the Central Planning Authority (CPA) denied an application from the developer to restart leveling the land. However, on Wednesday of this week the authority will be hearing another application from Whiterock Investment to extract 295,000 cubic yards of fill, threatening the short lived peace and quiet the residents have only recently regained as well as the natural environment.

The ongoing saga that the community has faced for many years has resurfaced despite the fact that in October 2008 the CPA denied an application to restart the development (which the developer denies is a quarry) on the correct basis that it was illegal to pursue activities that would "cause noise and create a nuisance and annoyance to the residents of the area" and "negatively affect the quality of life of the residents in the surrounding area."

Following another application from the developer, who says the excavation is in order to level the property for further development, the residents have once again had to file their objections.

One of the local residents and one of those who spearheaded the original campaign against the attempts to quarry there, Reverend Nicholas Sykes, said the application should not keep returning to the CPA and causing the continued distress to residents.

“The planning department should be empowered to ‘just say no’ to all such applications made after the CPA’s decision in 2008,” Rev. Sykes said on the eve of a meeting, which had already been postponed from a previous date in December, further heightening the anxiety of the residents.

As a member of the team which helped shape the Cayman Islands Constitution 2009, Sykes noted that it provides for the right to a "Private and Family Life" and “Lawful Administrative Action", which he believes applies to the situation that he and his neighbours keep finding themselves with regards to the persistent attempts by the developer to level the property through industrial quarrying.

“The Development and Planning Law can, it would seem, provide for such an empowerment of the planning department by delegation from the CPA,” Sykes said, explaining that the 2008 decision should continue to apply to the application and not require the residents to constantly raise their objections.

Since the developer is not prevented from reapplying, Sykes believes that because the 2008 decision is not delegated onto the applications the residents are forced to go through the whole objection process again and again, causing them “much distress” as they repeatedly have to prepare their opposition to every application the developer makes.

Sykes said that yet again the people of Mahogany Estates will attend in numbers to protect their homes as they cannot risk that the application could go through by default. He is, however, hoping that this time it may be possible for the October 2008 CPA decision to be applied to all subsequent applications to quarry in this area, removing the residents’ constant obligation to fight for the community, as he believes the law provides for such delegation.

“If this were done, we the residents should not have to be called to further meetings to keep putting the matter back to bed,” Sykes added hopefully. .

The application to excavate not only presents a threat to the people of the neighbourhood but also to the natural forest in the area, which is home to a number of endangered species, including the rare white shouldered bat, which was once thought to be extinct in the Cayman Islands but was rediscovered in the area in 2001. The Department of Environment is hoping the area will become one of the country’s first critical habitats under the new conservation law, which has yet to be passed.

With no conservation law in place, when the CPA hears the application on Wednesday there will be no compulsion for the members to consider the environmental implications, nor will the landowners be under any obligation to carry out an environmental impact assessment if the CPA was to grant permission.

The developer has stated in the application that it will move some of the native trees and that it believes that any species at risk would move to the surrounding area, so the environmental impact would be minimal.

The developer also claims that because the blasting will be done during the day the impact of the excavation on residents will also be kept to a minimum. However, while there is no conservation law to protect the bats, the residents are hoping the planning law, which clearly states that this kind of activity is not permitted in a residential area, will protect them.

CNS Note:  This story was removed from the CNS website for over two hours this morning following a telephone call from an individual claiming to represent Whiterock Investment. Althoughthe caller did not fully articulate the legal complaint he had about the article, he threatened to sue CNS as he did not like the content of the story. In order to give the caller time to clarify his exact complaint and spell out what he believed was inaccurate in writing CNS agreed to temporarily remove the article until noon. Since that commitment was made by us we have not received any written complaint specifying why the caller believes the article is incorrect.

In the interests of clarity, CNS would like to note that Whiterock insists that the application referred to in the story is not for a quarry but for a development. However, the residents who are objecting have persistently referred to the excavation as quarrying and we believe the readers can make their own judgements based on the image.

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Specialist K9s begin search

| 01/02/2011 | 10 Comments

(CNS): The hunt for missing landfill worker Anna Evans continued on Tuesday morning with the use of specially trained dogs, which have been brought from overseas to join the search of the landfill site and surrounding areas. Police have also released a photograph of the make and model of the cell phone Anna is believed to have had in her possession when she disappeared on Thursday. The cell phone is a black Nokia 1661 and police are appealing for anyone who may have found a telephone, similar to the one pictured to contact them on the enquiry hotline number 526-0911. Anna was last seen at the George Town landfill site around noon on 27 January, and despite the continued and intensive search, there is still no trace of Anna or her cellphone.

Yesterday, police revealed that there had been no calls so far to the hotline number from the public as they released pictures of the uniform Anna was wearing when she went missing in an effort to jog people’s memories. The deputy governor also urged all public servants to do whatever they could to care for her family and friends, assist in the search or come forward with information.

Police have widened the search beyond the landfill and nearby areas and said they were pursuing other lines of enquiry. Officers also indicated that Anna may have left the landfill at lunchtime and walked into George Town. the RCIPS is continuing to appealing for anyone who may have seen her to call the hotline.

It has now been four days since the 37-year-old landfill worker disappeared. The last reported sighting of her was around noon on Thursday, 27 January, at the dump site. When she was last seen she was wearing her official DoEH uniform, brown boots and a blue baseball cap.

Acting Superintendent Richard Barrow said police are following a number of lines of enquiry and were trying to find out if Anna did leave the site that day.

“Officers have been interviewing family members and friends, as well as viewing CCTV footage in an attempt to establish if Anna actually left the site on Thursday afternoon,” Barrows said. “That’s why today we are displaying a uniform similar to that worn by Anna when she was last seen. We hope that the picture of the uniform may jog people’s memories. We have learned that Anna often leaves the site around lunchtime and walks into George Town. We believe that Anna is a very friendly and outgoing person, and we would ask anyone who saw her or spoke to her on Thursday afternoon to get in contact with us as soon as possible.”

Despite an intensive search at the landfill site involving police, family members, community volunteers and the Red Cross, there is still no trace of Anna. Her family is being kept up to date with all developments through a dedicated police Family Liaison Officer. Barrow also raised the issue again of the rumours circulating on the local BlackBerry messaging service that he said were malicious and unhelpful.

“There have been numerous BlackBerry messages circulating – many clearly malicious and speculating about the reasons for Anna’s disappearance. We would urge anyone who has information to contact the police. This constant rumour-mongering is not helpful, either to Anna’s distraught family or to the ongoing police enquiry,” the senior cop added.

On Monday afternoon, Deputy Governor Donovan Ebanks stated that with the passage of "each minute, each hour and each day"  the anxiety over Anna’s safety was heightened, as he called on the community to help.

"I would urge all public servants, and the broader community, to do whatever you can to support and care for her family and friends, assist in the search, or support those involved in it. I appeal to anyone who has information, however trivial it may seem, that could possibly assist to please provide it to the RCIPS immediately  on the dedicated telephone no. 526-0911," Ebanks stated. "And finally, let us all continue to pray for Anna’s safety and reunion with her family."

The enquiry hotline number is 526-0911.

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Acting director lands ministry sports job

| 01/02/2011 | 1 Comment

(CNS): Collin Anglin who has been acting as Sports Director in the Ministry of Health, Environment, Youth, Sports since the end of 2009 has secured the post after an open recruitment process. Anglin has been with the Department of Sports since 2002 when he started as sports coordinator. Currently studying for his master’s in sports science Anglin is also the current holder of the Young Caymanian Leadership Award.  “I am delighted to see the promotion of another young Caymanian,” said Sports Minister Mark Scotland.

“Developing our youth through positive activities is one of my ministry’s foremost goals and Mr. Anglin’s vision for sports in the Islands ties in perfectly with this objective. In addition, he has tremendous compassion for our youngsters and a clear understanding of their needs. With him at the helm, we will certainly take great strides in creating much-needed developmental sports programmes,” the minister added.

Anglin’s passion for sports has been a lifelong thing and he volunteered as a coach at only 16 years of age. He has also played in Cayman’s national basketball team for the last 18 years – where he still holds the national scoring record. The driving force behind the Department of Sports’ community sports initiative Anglin has seen a number of projects take root in West Bay and East End.
“To me, sports mean far more than just playing games. It is one of the most positive ways to channel our youth’s energy, teach them discipline and give them a sense of accomplishment. Plus, it’s a great way to stay fit and healthy and should be a lifelong activity for all,” Anglin said.
With a bachelor’s degree in sports management already under his belt, he is currently pursuing his master’s in sports science from the United States Sports Academy. He is certified as an International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Level 1 Coach and also holds Caribbean Coaching Certification.
Apart from his contributions to sports, Anglin has proven himself in other areas, having taken top honours at last year’s Young Caymanian Leadership Award (YCLA) ceremony, in the process becoming Cayman’s latest YCLA recipient.

 

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Walking could boost memory say experts

| 01/02/2011 | 1 Comment

(BBC): Walking for 40 minutes a few times a week is enough to preserve memory and keep ageing brains on top form, research shows. Moderate exercise increased the size of the hippocampus, an area of the brain that makes memories, in 120 volunteers. The year-long trial, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed performance on memory tests also improved. Exercise may buffer against dementia as well as age-related memory loss.

The latest work looked at healthy people in their 60s rather than people with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. But the findings have important implications for ageing societies faced with a dementia time bomb. In the UK, 820,000 people have dementia, and this figure is set to double by 2030. Until a cure is discovered, finding cheap and simple ways to reverse this trend is imperative, say experts.

“Even modest exercise may improve memory and help protect the brain from normal decline caused by ageing,” said Dr Simon Ridley of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust .

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Greenhouse gas emissions fall in UK

| 01/02/2011 | 0 Comments

(The Guardian): The UK’s greenhouse gas emissions dropped by 8.7% in 2009, the latest available official figures showed today. Carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas, dropped by almost a 10th (9.8%) as the impacts of the recession hit electricity and fuel use across the economy. Greenhouse gas emissions fell across all areas, with an 11% reduction in the energy supply sector, an 11.8% fall among businesses, a 36.5% reduction in emissions from industrial processes, 4.2% from transport and 5.8% from homes. The falls were far higher than the previous year, when both CO2 and greenhouse gases as a whole dropped by around 2% but emissions from households rose by 3%.

The figures, released by the Department of Energy and Climate Change said the fall in emissions in 2009, the last year for which data are available, was due to a significant drop in energy consumption by businesses, industry and homes as the recession bit.


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Proposed EU rules pose new risk to hedge funds

| 01/02/2011 | 0 Comments

(FT.com): European equity markets would lose liquidity and investors and be at risk of more manipulation, if Brussels pushed ahead with plans to increase public disclosure of “short selling activity” a study published on Tuesday will warn. The report, by consultant Oliver Wyman, was conducted for the Alternative Investment Management Association which represents the hedge fund industry, and sponsored by Germany’s Deutsche Bank. It comes as scrutiny of draft rules on short selling – selling a security to drive down its price – put forward by the European Commission in September intensifies among member states and European parliamentarians.

A key parliamentary committee vote could take place later this month.

Brussels drew up the proposed rules after the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent sovereign bond turmoil led member states to introduce a patchwork of restrictions on short selling.


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UK cops gas tax protesters

| 01/02/2011 | 0 Comments

(Daily Telegraph): Police used CS spray on protesters at an anti-tax avoidance demo after an activist was arrested while pushing leaflets into an outlet of Boots. Officers detained the woman on suspicion of causing criminal damage during a sit-in demonstration at the store in Oxford Street, central London. Demonstrators said she simply bent the rubber seal between the doors of the premises as she attempted to force leaflets through. As officers arrested her, a confrontation took place during which a member of the police deployed CS spray against a small group. Three people were taken to hospital for treatment following the incident, London Ambulance Service said.

Scotland Yard confirmed that CS spray had been used to disperse protesters during the arrest.

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“You’ve got mail” from immigration

| 01/02/2011 | 8 Comments

(CNS): The immigration department began sending e-mails last week to people awaiting work permit decisions, speeding up the process. The new fast track service, which sends the approval to the applicant as soon as a decision is made, is one of a number of modernisation initiatives taking place at immigration, officials said on Monday. Enhancements currently being made to the Immigration database means that so far only good news can be sent electronically, so while approval notification licences can be sent immediately after a board meeting, further technical changes are still required before deferrals or refusals can be sent the same way. The move is one of a number of initiatives the department is adopting in an effort to make the system work better for business.

“This is the first phase of delivering enhanced online services to the Cayman business community,” said Chief Immigration Officer Linda Evans. “We are also re-engineering other internal manual processes and introducing technology wherever possible to maximise efficiency and improve turnaround times. Operating in these difficult economic times forces us to thinkoutside the box and come up with solutions that not only save money but allow our limited human resources to be utilized in more productive ways.”

Evans added that the service should prove to be a real asset, given that the department handled over 21,000 work permit applications last year.

Information on client needs was gathered over several months via a customer survey, focus groups and staff brainstorming sessions. Evans said staff arrived at practical solutions to customer needs with help from Deloitte, which conducted the survey at no cost. Technical arrangements to facilitate the email project were led by Computer Services Department Applications Project Manager Mick Whitworth.

“Once the groundwork was done, we tested it on a pilot group of seven of Immigration’s largest corporate clients during December. The group included an employment agency, which also provided valuable feedback,” Whitworth said.

Local businesses in the new email initiative are asked to send their current email addresses to IMM_IS@gov.ky so that they can be put into the database. The department intends to publicly launch its new web-online access at the end of February.

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